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Breck's Mill, near the Hagley Museum

It has been difficult to find stories about mills that still exist, but Breck’s Mill is not only still in place, but the three and a half story it has now been there on the banks of Brandywine Creek for two hundred and ten years. I have no doubt that Breck’s Mill owes its longevity to its solid stone construction.

A Brief Outline History of Breck’s Mill

By Jacqueline A. Hinsley

1684 – 1810 The land on which Breck’s Mill stands was once part of a tract of almost a hundred acres granted in 1684 by William Penn to Adam Stedham. The first mill on the site was laid out by Charles Gilpin who purchased the land in 1756 and erected a grist or corn mill and saw mill. Vincent Gilpin inherited the property from his father and was operating the mill at the time of his death in 1810. The mill and the neighboring community were known as Gilpinton.

1813 – 1836 The War of 1812 and the consequent embargo on English goods gave impetus to the already growing textile industry in America. In 1813 Louis McLane and George B. Milligan purchased the property from the Gilpin heirs and erected a cotton spinning mill built of stone, three and a half stories high, sixty-two feet long and forty-two feet wide adjacent to the old Gilpin mill. At some time after 1813 the newly constructed mill and the older Gilpin mill acquired the name of Rokeby, no doubt from the poem “Rokeby” written by Sir Walter Scott in 1812. It was the custom of the time to choose names from popular literary works for private homes, country estates and even mills.

In 1823 John Carter operated the cotton factory [Carter had 2,300 spindles and 20 hand looms and 10 power looms in operation] and there were several other tenants before William Breck leased the mills in 1832.

[See the newspaper story below for some of the history of Breck's Mill and also George Mulligan’s “melancholy accident” in 1929.]

Breck's Mill - Hagley Museum and Library

In 1835 McLane and Milligan sold the mills to Breck and Joseph Dixon for $16,500. At the time the cotton mill took on the name Breck’s Mill and the old frame grist mill built by Gilpin continued to be called Rokeby. The following year, when William Breck married Gabrielle Josephine du Pont, granddaughter of Victor du Pont, they gave the name Rokeby to their new home on the bluff overlooking the mill community where Breck’s Lane joins the Creek Road.

Breck's Mill is on the left of the dam and Walkers Mill is on the right. View is from Rockford Tower - ca. 1910

1839 – 1880s The partnership of Dixon and Breck did not prosper and in 1839 they sold out to Charles I. du Pont who converted Breck’s Mill to the manufacture of woolen cloth and in 1841 incorporated the business as the Rokeby Manufacturing Company. In 1848 the mill interior was destroyed by fire but the stone walls remained intact. It was rebuilt at once. In 1852 both the Rokeby and Breck’s Mill properties were sold to the Du Pont Company, who leased them to a succession of cotton manufacturers.

Breck's Mill, 1933 - DPA

1890 – 1970 In the 1890s Brecks Mill was being used as a recreational center and social hall. Around 1900 Alfred I. du Pont had a stage constructed and it was the home of a number of musical organizations, one being Tancopanican Band directed by Alfred. For a number of years, until the 1920s, Breck’s Mill was known as the Hagley Community House. The old Gilpin mill known as Rokeby was used as the first experimental laboratory by the Du Pont Company from 1903 to 1906 when it was destroyed by fire.

When the Du Pont Company disposed of it’s Brandywine properties after the powder mills closed in 1921, Breck’s Mill was acquired by Mrs. Mary A. B. (du Pont) Laird. It was owned in turn by her son, W. W. Laird, who continued its use as a musical and theatrical center. He presented it to the Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation in 1970.

May 26th, 1962 - The Morning News


Breck's Mill is part of the Breck's Mill Area-Henry Clay Village Historic District, and now houses two fascinating art galleries. The Somerville Manning Gallery on the ground floor, open Mon-Sat 10am-4:30pm, is devoted to 20th- and 21st-century art, including the works of the Wyeth family and other artists trained in the Brandywine School tradition. The André Harvey Studio on the second floor, open Mon-Sat 10am-4:30pm, displays Harvey's realistic bronze sculptures of people and animals, as well as sculptural gold jewelry. There's a U.S. Post Office on-site, too.

Breck's Mill can be visited by taking the Hagley Museum exit off of Rt 141. Under the bridge at the bottom of the hill, turn right onto Stone Block Row and Breck’s Mill will be on the left when you get to the next intersection, with Breck’s Lane.

Sources: Wikipedia - Breck's Mill area

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